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Tuesday 9 Apr 2024    Things to do in Paris

Les Bouquinistes of Paris

Ever wondered about the story behind the green stalls dotting along the Seine river? Here's a little history on the bouquinistes of Paris!

Bouquinistes have been embedded in the Parisian landscape for centuries, and while they sometimes effortlessly melt into the picturesque scenery along the Seine River and its many bridges if the little green book stalls were to suddenly disappear, we would realize how much the profession has contributed to the cultural heritage of France and is sans doute (without a doubt) one of the most iconic yet overlooked features of our beloved city - one that is truly irreplaceable.

While the term ‘bouquiniste’ was added to the dictionary in 1752 for sellers of old books, the métier (profession) seems to be much older than that and has operated under different names over time. Previously in a 1680 dictionary, the term ‘étaleur’ was used to designate ‘poor booksellers who spread out books on the edges of the Pont Neuf’. You’re probably wondering ‘Why just that bridge?’ – well it’s simply because, at the time, the Pont Neuf was one of a kind! Bridges back then were not just bridges they served as prime real estate for housing and boutiques. The old bridges were made out of wood and now, with hindsight, we can see that lining each side of a bridge with back-to-back buildings was not structurally sound... and poof! They all eventually collapsed. This brings us back to Pont Neuf - the first bridge in Paris to be house-free and spacious! It’s not hard to see how it quickly became a sought-after location for bouquinistes and other merchants. Even in times when literature was hard to access, the bouquinistes were there to save the day! During the French Revolution, only a select few newspapers and handouts were publicly available to obtain, so those of literary minds quenched their thirst to read and collect antique books by paying a little visit to their friendly open-air booksellers. The profession continued to grow as the quai was constructed along the river and more space was available to accommodate the merchants and their books. It was finally in 1891 when the city of Paris decreed that the bouquinistes were an integral part of Parisian culture and should be allowed to leave their merchandise on site bringing about the birth of the symbolic green stalls that we all know and cherish!

Bouquinistes do not pay tax nor rent but they must comply with strict regulations of the boxes they occupy. Their permits are valid for 5 years whereby they must be open at least four days a week (except in bad weather). Booksellers are responsible for maintaining the four boxes they operate, and the main portion of their sales should come from books, antique papers, or prints.  In one of their four boxes, they are allowed to sell coins, postcards, stamps, and other souvenirs.

They have become such a fundamental part of the city that they were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992! Whether you’re two lovebirds living out your romantic movie, friends perusing the quay for that perfect evening apéro, or just on a promenade… don’t forget to give the bouquinistes a little love - un petit bonjour will suffice but who knows, you might find the perfect gift to bring back home!

As the old saying goes, the Seine is ‘the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves.

Photo credit Paris.fr
For those looking for a little tour to do around Paris, you can follow the City of Paris' map showcasing all of the bouquiniste boxes. Along the way, you'll also pass some other notable Paris attractions, including the Louvre, the Saint-Michel fountain, the Pont des Arts, Notre-Dame cathedral, and more!

Central Paris Location

Last Minute Course Places

14 Jun 2024

  • French Baking Classes / Le Croissant & Breakfast Pastries
  • The 'Roi' of the Parisian breakfast table, Le Croissant ! Enjoy three hours of mastering this decadent, flaky, buttery French icon.

  • La Cuisine Paris, 80 Quai de l'Hôtel de Ville, 75004 Paris     Time: 14:30 - 17:30
  • Price: €119.00     Availability: 1 place left

15 Jun 2024

  • Evening Classes / French Hors d'Oeuvres & Drinks!
  • Join us for this quintessential pre-dinner social experience as you create beautiful hors d’oeuvres and other small appetizers!

  • La Cuisine Paris, 80 Quai de l'Hôtel de Ville, 75004 Paris     Time: 15:00 - 18:00
  • Price: €129.00     Availability: 3 places left

17 Jun 2024

  • French Technical Classes / French Bistrot Lunches
  • Le Soufflé

    Au menu:

    a traditional savory Soufflé au Fromage (cheese soufflé)

    plateau of fromage (a selection of fine French cheeses)

    salade with a traditional French vinaigrette

    a delicate and sweet Soufflé au Chocolat (chocolate soufflé)

    After all that hard work (and fun), enjoy lunch with your classmates and a glass of wine while admiring wonderful views across the Seine to Notre Dame.

  • La Cuisine Paris, 80 Quai de l'Hôtel de Ville, 75004 Paris     Time: 10:30 - 13:00
  • Price: €119.00     Availability: 2 places left

18 Jun 2024

  • French Baking Classes / French Baguettes and ‘Boulangerie’ Class
  • Three hours of French Bread heaven in the heart of Paris. Learn the tips and tricks to bring the French 'boulangerie' to 'chez vous'!

  • La Cuisine Paris, 80 Quai de l'Hôtel de Ville, 75004 Paris     Time: 14:00 - 17:00
  • Price: €119.00     Availability: 1 place left

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If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to call on +33 (0)1 40 51 78 18 or email contact@lacuisineparis.com    Click here for further contact details